ben folds show in Easton, PA, april 10th, 2008

Audio isn’t great, but it’s the best version of Free Coffee I could find. There’s an aluminum cake pan in the piano as well as a distortion pedal. He didn’t mess it up last night, like in the clip, thankfully.

Quick (hopefully) post about last night’s ben folds concert at lafayette college in easton, PA. I’ve been to six Ben Folds concerts now (since 2001 and most of them were relatively close to where i was at the time, but yes, it’s still a lot), and I’d probably rank this as the second best of them all, with last year’s Muhlenberg show taking the top spot. Reasoning for this is that the drumer and bassist add so much more to the sound, both instrumentally and vocally, and both of these past two shows didn’t require me to sit through rufus wainwright sucking the energy out of the crowd.

Granted, we had to sit through an equally ill-picked opening act (the same as muhlenberg), a solo guitar player/”singer” whose songs consisted of mostly playing the same chord over and over again arhythmically, droning on and on about there being “evil in the world” until the words had no meaning, all while basically looking like Sam Rockwell doing his best Crispin Glover impression. He also seemed to be drunk?

Mr. Folds (as the New York Times would say), put on his normal, energetic show for about an hour and forty five minutes, adding new bits to established songs, and going back to the beginning of the catalogue, including seven Ben Folds Five songs, and playing four new songs. Apparently, they just finished recording the new album; didn’t say anything about release dates. Overall, just a fast-paced, awesome show. Also of note, t-shirts being sold read “I [Heart]ed Ben Folds… before he sucked”.

Setlist (I felt like a nerd writing the song titles down, and I probably was right in feeling that way) below.

New Song– Didn’t hear the title or any of the words really. Possibly “Brainwashed”
Gone
Hiroshima– New song about falling off a stage in Japan and doing the show with a concussion.
Bastard– That vocal part in the middle (adjusted from the album to suit three people, still sounding like more) is ridiculous
Still Fighting It
Free Coffee– New song. Played with a cake pan inside the piano, and a distortion pedal on some of the keys. Really interesting sound.
You to Thank– Went to the 70s sounding keyboard to the side of the piano for part of the solo, and was actually playing tough parts on both at the same time, angled ninety degrees apart, for a bit.
Landed– Cameo by some tambourine player got major cheerage.
Annie Waits
B*tches aint Sh*t
Lullabye (rest of the band stepped down for this and luckiest)
Luckiest
Narcolepsy– Maybe the best version of this I’ve heard. Especially effective after the quiet sap-fest “Luckiest” (not that it’s bad, it’s just quiet and sappy). Narcolepsy was long, loud, and with a good bit of jamming in the middle.
Army– Didn’t teach the audience the horn parts, but just kinda pointed, expecting them.
Kate
Rockin’ The Suburbs– Claimed it was originally going to be about Bob Seger beating someone up with tire chains for robbing an old lady.
Underground
Zak and Sara
One Angry Dwarf– These last two are the normal, fast paced closers, amping up the energy until he throws the stool at the piano.

Encore
Effington– New Song. Nice three-part a cappella opening. Something about “If there’s a god, he’s laughing at us and our football team”. Kinda sounded like a school fight song. Tambourine player reappeared to applause.
Philosophy– with the normal stuff added at the end.
Not the Same– w/ audience vocals.

****½
Four and a half stars. Minus half for the draining opening act, the smallest crowd, and possibly least interested (though that’s not to say they didn’t bring the applause, maybe just didn’t feel like singing) I’ve seen for a show, and opening his set with a new song that nobody knew.

Cloverfield

Pirated video that shows clearly what the monster really is.

It’s been a while since we’ve posted… I know.

To put it simply, Cloverfield is effin’ scary. I would venture as far as to say that it was the most viscerally affecting movie I’ve seen since Children of Men. This isn’t just a monster movie; it’s a movie, that, like The Mist and I Am Legend before it, plays on our greatest unthought-of fear, that something so disastrous could happen that all manner of government protection would be rendered moot. Mass chaos with no way out, and nothing to keep you alive but your own strength of will in circumstances that you’d never imagine yourself in. Cloverfield is so effective at what it sets out to do, reminding us that our modern “civilized” society is one catastrophic event away from being reduced to nothing more than bickering people who’ve been taken over by primitive “fight or flight” survival instincts.

The way the reviewers have talked about it, I’m sure you’ve all heard complaints ad nauseum about the “lack of story”, the “unlikeablility” of characters, the illogical choices made by certain people, and that it didn’t make sense for someone to keep recording through the whole thing. Honestly, I didn’t care about any of those things at all, and it’s a testament to how involving the movie is that I only once stopped to think about the fact that a camera battery wouldn’t last as long it does, and only one other time to think about how long it would take them to walk in a subway tunnel the distance that they said they did. Despite the rich, hipster vibe that the characters exuded, I didn’t really find them all that grating, even though it was basically as if Godzilla interrupted an episode of Felicity (with good reason; both the executive producer and the director were co-creators of that show). If they indeed go ahead with a sequel to be shot in the same style, telling a different story from the same night, I would love to see people from the opposite end of the spectrum and how they managed, how different their priorities were, and just how they would differ in their actions in general.

More often than not though, I found myself sitting in my chair, with my mouth wide open, totally enraptured by what was going on. Would I too be able to climb across a roof of a forty-story building that was leaning at a sixty degree angle from the ground, only being held up by the building next to it? Would I have gone back to save someone from a giant killer spider-crab in a pitch black subway tunnel? Why was this monster movie the first one that ever made me question the lengths I would go to survive? As intense as it was, The Mist, never made me feel this way, despite the fact that the subject material was quite similar. In my opinion, it goes to media theorist Marshall McLuhan‘s statement from his book “Understanding Media:Extensions of Man“, that “The Medium is the Message”. To put a very long and convoluted series of the oftentimes contradictory thoughts by a raving Canadian lunatic into a simplistic summary, the method by which a message is sent from one person to another is oftentimes more important to the delivery than the message itself. The best example of this is the famed Nixon-Kennedy debate where the majority of radio listeners seemed to think that Nixon had won, while the television viewers, able to see Nixon’s body language, sweating, and poor make-up job, were convinced that Kennedy won. On a side note, I always wondered if the people who did that study took into account the differences in politics between the people who listened and people who watched, and if that played into their answers to the question.

How this idea of medium applies to Cloverfield is that we’ve been programmed with the language of film over the past one-hundred years. Even if we aren’t aware of it, we’ve come to expect a certain syntax. We don’t notice it though, until a reverse angle of a shot doesn’t match, or an edit isn’t smooth. The Mist lives by these rules, and the whole time it tries to invoke this question of “what happens when the world goes to hell?”, while also playing it like a 1950s B-horror movie creature feature. Issues with the unfocused nature of the plot set aside, it’s the fact that the movie’s presented in the language of Film that makes you step back and realize how preposterous the story really is.

Ironically, it’s the movie inspired by the crude and incredibly repetitive Godzilla series that has effectively transcended this medium and broken out of the box, leaving genuine lasting emotion. The same way that we’ve been trained to understand that movies aren’t real and that we shouldn’t feel anguish when Jason Vorhees, “an unstoppable killing machine“, hacks someone up with a machete, we’ve been trained to recognize video as infallible. Which affects you more: watching an alien pop out of someone’s chest killing them in a movie, or watching a video of a skateboarder falling fifty feet to a hard wooden surface and seeing his shoes explode, but then being able to walk off, relatively unharmed? We haven’t yet learned to apply the same reality filters to video that we currently do to film, and this is what Cloverfield exploits.

No matter how many times you try to tell yourself this movie isn’t real, the medium that the message is delivered in contradicts your thoughts and plays to your instincts. What would happen if you took this movie over to undeveloped parts of Africa (as McLuhan puts it, a place where people have not been “immunized” to this medium) or if someone years down the line saw this without the context to put it in? It’s very likely that they might think it actually happened, especially if they’ve seen the 2001 attack footage. Critics (used literally, not film critics) of the movie have been saying that it exploits September 11th imagery, but I would argue that it successfully uses those scenes we have committed to memory to scare us in a very real way, much more than any slasher flick or monster movie has done before. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been spending a large amount of time in the area that was directly affected in the movie. It’s more likely that I was less able to discern the difference between the two because when the twin towers fell I was watching it on a movie screen in a film auditorium. Watching Cloverfield, it was hard not to think back to this moment and relate the two, drawing all that emotion out.

One of the most harrowing scenes in the whole thing is the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge, which I’ve walked over a few times. It may very well be the most frightening destruction of a major landmark ever to be created in a movie, far scarier than anything in the modern classic Independence Day or its red-headed step-brother The Day After Tomorrow, completely because of its realism and the point of view of the person delivering the message.

Here’s where the debate rages though. Should a movie be judged on how effective it is at making you feel a certain way, or on the quality of story and characters? If it uses the story and characters as well as technically impressive work to achieve this emotional effect (such as in I Am Legend), then it’s obvious that it’s a good movie. What happens though, when the two aren’t mutually exclusive, when character development and a tight story take second chair to exceptional method and incredibly well-realized scenes? Is it still a good movie? This isn’t to say that Cloverfield offered no cohesive story or successful characterizations (the realism in the actors’ portrayals ” not so much film acting, but moreso being in the situation with a natural intensity that you would expect of someone living out this unthinkable scenario””certainly drives the moments and carries the film as much as the technique), but it’s a chase movie in the most basic sense. Something’s attacking, nobody knows what it is, but we’re running from it. There’s really nothing more to it than that, and I would be hard-pressed to say the movie had an effective story to tell, instead opting to give you a few character dynamics and letting them provide the motivation for an hour’s worth of recorded events. I’ve heard completely mixed reviews from friends and film critics in regards to this movie, and it seems as though this question of how to judge is where the basic disagreement lies. For me, the movie was incredibly effective at what it set out to do, and was plenty enjoyable from start to finish (and I loved the epic “Cloverfield Theme” that scored the credits) and that’s all I can ask for in a threatrical experience.

One last thing. If in my diatribe about the presentation of the movie I left out the success of The Blair Witch Project, which this movie couldn’t have come about without, it was because that was not a successful movie. Where the difference between the two films lies is that while The Blair Witch created a very real found-footage aura, it was overly-long and for the most part, boring and whiny. Think about it. The bulk of the movie was about kids wandering around the woods and arguing with each other. It took on the found-footage medium and while it succeeded at creating a realistic portrayal of what one might look like (as in “normal people are generally boring and spend a lot of time fighting and talking about nothing at all”), it completely failed as entertainment for all but about 15 minutes. It had a few interesting story elements, but needed to pad out its runtime with lame characterizations and nothing really happening. It was also completely visually uninteresting, giving you nothing to fall back on when you got tired of all the complaining going on onscreen. Cloverfield takes a look at the mistakes of this film and basically imports action movie beats into the style in order to fix its problems, never stopping to let us take a breath or think about all the implausibilities. The people behind this movie have brilliantly created a hybrid “found-footage/blockbuster action movie” medium, and by doing this, it skews our perception of its events, leaving our common sense to duke it out with our basic media instincts, and that is why it truly succeeds.

****½

Cloverfield is not only a genre-redefining movie, but a medium redefining movie that uses the language of video and film together to confuse our perception of events. You know it isn’t real, but once it wraps you up in its swift pace, that notion leaves your mind, making the horror of the scenario all the more genuine. The entire group of people involved were committed to making you believe that this had really happened, and they succeeded admirably at doing it. Now next time, give us some better characters and a more plausible story arc for them.

While I’m at it….

The Mist
*½
I really wanted to love it, but it completely tears itself in two directions, trying to be a giant killer insect horror movie, and a bold statement on how far our civility falls when we’re presented with dire circumstances. Not only that but characters are either underused (Andre Braugher) or completely over-the-top crazy (Marcia Gay Harden), and though Tom Jane gives a strong performance (before he brings it on a little too strong at the end) he can’t keep down all my hatred for the main antagonist, the crazy religious nut-job who wants everyone to repent or die. If it’s supposed to be allegory, it takes a very ham-fisted approach that really turned me off. Subtlety isn’t this movie’s strong point. Visually, it’s spectacular, but unfortunately a great premise is undermined by story issues, probably stemming from the source material. Much like most of the movie, the end sort of rips off of “Night of the Living Dead” in its painful irony, though it may have one of the best “downer” endings I’ve seen in a long time.

I Am Legend
****
Visually, the most realistically drastic transformation of any actual location that I’ve ever seen put to film, I Am Legend decides to “show” us, and not “tell” us about the collapse of humanity, unlike The Mist . By that I mean that while the previous movie spends its time preaching to you about how everyone will turn on one another to survive, this movie shows the result of that, in a devastatingly real fashion. You are left to create your own account of how it all went down, only giving us brief glimpses into society’s fall in flashbacks that serve more to develop Will Smith’s character’s personal story. It was completely refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t give you every detail and leaves some things open to the imagination. Will Smith’s character and portrayal are perfectly subtle in the ways that his past, his loneliness, and his obsession with curing the sick have taken its toll on his sanity, but the critics are correct that unfortunately all of this strong set-up seems to devolve with about twenty-five minutes left into some more action-oriented, less suspenseful version of Signs, right down to the “oh, it all makes sense now, God has a plan for me” revelation. I Am Legend is a completely haunting vision of what life would be like if you were the last person on earth, Zombie storylines aside.

“Heroes” – Four Months Later

Every Tuesday, I’ll be blogging about the show “Heroes”, for the TV site Magnetic Media Fed. Here’s my review of last week’s season premiere.

heroes_promo.jpg
Sometimes, I wish this was a show called “Her Es” about a girl and her magical adventures with her favorite letter of the alphabet.

For as weak and underwhelming as last year’s finale was, this episode was everything a season premiere should be. It took nearly all of the incredibly good-looking characters from last year and put them into new and intriguing storylines, with mostly success, and it introduced a bunch of new faces into the mix as well. It effectively created plenty of new mysteries and raised lots of questions, but as we’ve learned in the past, how well they pay off is anyone’s guess.

The main problem with this show (besides cramming an insane amount of story into one season) is that it relies too much on setup. Everything is plot setup for a future payoff. Think back to last season. You had about a thousand characters, with the unspoken promise that all these characters would come together in some sort of pre-determined climax, and a battle of immense proportions would ensue. Interestingly enough, the real climax of the season didn’t come in the season finale, but in an episode three weeks before it, with events that technically aren’t even going to actually happen since the present was changed to fix the future (GREAT SCOTT!). This is not to say that tremendous amounts of setup aren’t worth it. Personally, I don’t have a problem with being strung along, even if the end is weak, because I enjoy the ride, the guessing at where the plot is going to go, or what the answers all are. You look at LOST, and even though they didn’t really start giving much payoff to any storylines until halfway through this past season, I enjoy being thrown all these curveballs, all these mysteries to ponder.

That being said, I do and have always thought that this show throws way too many at one time, and therefore has a hard time hitting a home run with any of them (how’s that for a baseball metaphor?). This episode alone had eight storylines running “” nine if you count the Dr. Manhattan-like reformation of previously exploded Peter Petrelli “” and we still haven’t even seen the Sanderses, Sylar, and newbies Veronica Mars and Dana Davis yet, not to mention this Bogeyman guy. That’s possibly fourteen different ongoing plots running at the same time. In addition, there were also a ton of small mysteries and such that were briefly touched upon that are presumably going to become bigger as they go along. Is it safe to assume that all of these mysteries will get solved in a neat and orderly fashion? Now that all the Heroes, at least the ones from season one, have each other on speed-dial, is it safe to assume that they’ll all congregate at the Hall of Justice and figure it all out? As Kensei would probably say, “Not bloody likely”. Does it mean that a bit of a letdown at the payoff isn’t worth the months of awesome exposition? We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.

For now, I liked more about this episode than I disliked. To clarify, the only thing I didn’t really care for at all was the Honduras duo, but I’ll get to that later. Even with my criticisms, I think that overall, they’ve done a great job in moving the characters on from last season, and organically segued them into new storylines with some growth. The only one that didn’t really feel natural was the Parkman divorce thing, because of where the two characters were at the end of last year, but I can see how his sense of duty to this girl might be more important. With that in mind, onto what I liked and didn’t like.

I really enjoyed the Parkman/Molly stuff. The two are good together onscreen, and are given some of the best material from the episode to work with, especially their dinner scene. In a show as plot-driven as this is, it’s good to see some character moments, and I could watch Greg Grunberg all day. His fellow Alias alum, and the second best part of that show, NPH-lookalike David Anders is going to be great in Hiro’s “TMNT3”-meets-“The Last Samurai” storyline, even though it’s very tough to tell why this story is even being told in the first place and why Hiro can use his powers in old Japan, but can’t teleport out of there, or back to when he got in the middle of that fight. Maybe it was because of the eclipse, which lasted all of one minute and served no purpose besides looking cool. It’s no big deal, though, because I think this dynamic between the characters/actors could work, and I’m willing to see where it goes, even if it’s just some character growth for Hiro. The best “little thing” about the episode was when Hiro took his glasses off when Kensei asked if he was a scientist and then put them back on to make sure he wasn’t seeing things when the mask came off. I think I might like the Mohinder storyline this year, as he’s basically playing go-between for HRG and Stephen “Werner Brandis. My voice is my passport; verify me.” Tobolowsky. It really is a perfect fit for where he should be, and a natural progression from what happened at the end of last season, not to mention that the two more interesting characters/actors will be driving the story. I liked the mystery of the deaths of the elder heroes, even though I question how George Takei knew who hoodie-guy was, even though we never saw who he was. Although, we never knew what Takei’s superpower was anyway (seems like a waste), so maybe it was some sort of people identification power. It’ll be interesting to see whether this plotline is a tie-in to the Bogeyman story, the Sylar story (probably not), or the “Company” story.

What didn’t I like? Claire’s re-introduction to high school/HRG’s Office Depot job. I get that they’re trying to start a new life and be boring and low-key, but could they do it with some more realistic characterizations? I understand that I’m saying this about a superhero show, but it always seems like the normal people who are always the side characters, are the most unrealistic, ironically. Take HRG’s porn-star-mustachioed boss; I can’t imagine a guy working at a place like that taking his job so seriously. Not only that, but the whole story was kinda a waste of time, really, other than to have something for HRG to do for the episode. There’s no reason why it couldn’t just be casually mentioned that he has a job somewhere, if that’s even necessary. I didn’t buy Claire at school either. Maybe it’s just because I’ve always hated the completely unrealistic Hollywood portrayal of high school as this place where there’s only 40 people, and the cheerleaders always wear their uniforms to school for some reason and have practice during their gym class that only has one guy in it. Actually, was there more than one guy at the school in total? The only one I saw was the ridiculously-named “West” whose superpowers seem to be showing up at exactly the most convenient time, plot-wise, and super-stalking. I liked the robot vs. alien convo the first time, but thought the call-back was unnecessary. Also, while I’m at it, my high school was on the state “empowerment” (read:worst of the worst, academically) list, and even we knew who Darwin was. The kids at this school must not have watched season one of Heroes, because that’s all the narration ever talks about. Another issue about this show is that I can’t remember one side character, who has been focused on, even minorly, and who doesn’t have a power of some sort. It’s getting incredibly easy to guess that someone is going to be superpowered, and that totally blows the reveal, in this case, when he flew at the end. Maybe the twist is that he actually is an alien, and those questions were totally literal. Lastly, that dinner scene was probably the most bizarre, out-of-place segment I’ve ever seen on the show. It was like someone hired Terry Gilliam to do it, what with the strange tension, weird close-ups, and the mom bringing the dog to the table and talking to it.

The Honduras story I found to be kinda boring and one-note, and considering I just saw that superpower on The 4400 last week, it didn’t shock me as much as it was probably supposed to. This is another wait-and-see story.

Nathan’s story wasn’t really fleshed (HA! I KILL ME) out at all, but one presumes that his perpetual drunkenness, and playoff/get-over-my-breakup beard, along with the Man Without a Face vision will play into future episodes, so I don’t really have any opinion on this.

Lastly, the little things that are going to be important in the future: I think they’re overextending themselves with this symbology. That insignia is in every freaking shot now, it seems like. Even when Peter shows up at the end, he’s wearing a necklace with it on for some reason. It’s in Japan; it’s on Molly’s papers; it’s on the pictures of the Elders. This is the sort of plot point (much like Hurley’s numbers on LOST) which has never been given a specific meaning, and can just be thrown in in random places to make things seem mysterious, and in doing that, they run the risk never being able to answer it, leaving the audience completely unfulfilled. I already mentioned the Nathan’s mirror/scarring shot. Obviously, they keep mentioning this Bogeyman, and it, along with Mohinder’s taking down The Company, the Elders’ murder mystery, and the Virus story seem to be what will comprise the main drive of the season, much like last year’s was to stop someone setting us up the bomb. Hopefully, much like Teri Bauer, Peter’s amnesia will go away after three hours time.

***½

Despite all of these criticisms, the show is still easily one of the easiest to watch on TV, as it’s generally well-shot, well-paced, well-acted, and has a host of diverse and mostly likeable characters. And thankfully, they gave time to the interesting ones this week and left Nikki and that “My Wife and Kids” kid off. We’ll see how long they can walk the fourteen-plotline tightrope for.

The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection, Volume 1, Disc 1

safetylast.jpg
Funny, just a few minutes ago, the streets were jam-packed with people staring up in disbelief.

One of the great features of NetFlix is the ability to look at a list of Academy Award-Winners, or AFI lists, or even Razzie award-winners, and then with one click add them to your list. The biggest problem with Netflix is that when you have a ton of movies in your queue, it’s gonna take months to get it, and what you might want to watch one day isn’t necessarily what you want to watch some other time. Months and months ago, I’d made an effort to add all the movies from AFI’s 100 comedies list that I hadn’t seen… even the black and white movies that Dan generally dispises. Surprisingly, “Bringing Up Baby” was pretty awesome farce, if you can get past the fact that Katherine Hepburn is way too obnoxious in this movie for anyone today to even consider this character a plausible love interest. “Some Like it Hot” is pretty fantastic, despite the fact that the more sympathetic of the two guys doesn’t get the girl in the end. “It Happened One Night” and “The Apartment” kinda dragged a bit, even though “The Apartment” was shot really well.

In any case, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the funniest of these that I ended up with were actually some silent movies from the 20s. Remembering the AFI special showing this silent movie with a guy, Harold LLoyd, hanging from a clock on a building, and them saying he was actually hanging from such and such heights, I was pretty interested in finding what this title was. Unfortunately, I think that Netflix has the wrong disc on it, or “The Freshman” somehow was on the AFI list instead, and I ended up with one that had some of his other stuff on it, which was actually very interesting, especially with the Leonard Maltin commentaries on. I didn’t end up getting the disc with the film I’d been looking for, “Safety Last“, until this weekend, and I got through two features and one short yesterday.

The short, “An Eastern Westerner”, was perfectly serviceable, with some great gags but not too much of a story. Somehow a big-city guy ends up in a corrupt western town, and they don’t take too kindly to him. It ends with a decent-length chase scene in which Harold outwits the entire village (the people are all dressed in robes resembling the KKK), but really isn’t anything more than a few minutes distraction.

The feature length (about an hour and twenty minutes I think), “Girl Shy” is exceptional. Harold plays a small-town taylor who’s writing a pretty terrible book about dozens of love affairs he’s supposedly had, even though he’s incredibly inept around women. On a train to take the book to the publisher, he meets and falls in love with a rich city-girl. Their love story develops after the train ride, but when he doesn’t get the book deal, he rejects her, knowing that she couldn’t very well marry a poor taylor. She ends up engaged, and when some details come out about the guy she’s marrying, Harold races to the city by any means necessary, in (considering when this was shot), one of the greatest chase scenes ever filmed. “By any means possible” probably describes it better; He unsuccessfully tries to hitchhike three times, then steals a car belonging to bootleggers, another car, a horse, a motorcycle, a cable car, and a horse-drawn carriage. The choreography and detail of this extended chase is remarkable, and what makes you invest in it all the more is the time given to explain the motivations for the actions, and to the akward-yet-sweet love story.

Not as remarkable from a story standpoint (but close) is “Safety Last”, usually considered Lloyd’s masterpiece. “Safety Last” concerns a poor department store worker trying to woo a girl and make ends meet. When his boss offers $1000 (in 1923 money) to anyone who can bring a large amount of people to the store, he decides that he’ll have his friend, an expert building climber, scale the building in a much publicized event. What he’s not counting on, is a police officer with a vendetta against the friend, who’s come out in search of the human fly. When the cop spots the friend, the plans changes so that Harold will climb up one floor and meet the friend inside. The friend will put on Harolds clothes and finish the climb. Unfortunately the real climber is unable to ditch the cop on his tail, and Harold is forced to go the whole way himself. What follows is a harrowing and hilarious series of perils and obstacles, many shot more than 15 stories up, without proper safety equipment.

I watched it with the Leonard Maltin/”Some guy from Lloyd’s estate” commentary track on, as there’s not much to lose by not hearing a silent movie, and it was insightful and interesting. Having watched some of these movies without commentary, I would think it safe to say that you miss a lot without them. There are so many small, throwaway gags that completely fly under the radar without people saying “I love this little thing coming up here”, and I think it has to do with just not being used to watching silent movies. Plus you would never know that he was actually missing his thumb and half of his index finger on his right hand, and wore some sort of prosthetic glove, or that they shot the building he was climbing on a few 18 foot tall facades they built next to the edge of a real building to get the vista shots, and that they only had some mattresses on the roof, in case he fell.

But there are a lot of little bits that you would miss, and I think it has to do with the nature of the medium today. You can put something on in the background and listen and do something else and half pay attention. These silent films were meant to be watched in a dark theatre and have the audience hang on every action. There’s something alienating about watching silent movies, usually because you’re sitting around silently watching something with just music, and you have to actively participate in the viewing, but for some reason, after the first twenty minutes of “Girl Shy” I found myself reeled into the characters, even if the action was sparse. Once that chase scene started, though, I was glued to the set.

****½

The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection, Volume 1, Disc 1 (or what I’ve seen of it at least) gets 4.5 stars for the amount of content (Two features, Three 20 minute or so shorts, for about four hours of movies), the quality of the content itself (both the great video quality, and the actual quality of the movies themselves), and the very insightful commentary on “Safety Last”

Pitchfork Media’s Review of “Shine On” and “Get Born” by Jet

My review of “Step One” by Steps. Wow, that was easy. I didn’t even have to sit through the CD!

When you read a review, you expect certain things. You want to hear some insightful positives and negatives regarding the thing being reviewed. You don’t want to be talked down to. You hope to have an overall idea of whether said object is worth seeing/listening to/buying/reading/visiting/eating/doing/throwing things at. And after you’ve done any of those things, you want to come back and read that review again to determine whether you agree or think the reviewer is out of his mind. Basically, you expect reviews like this and this. Then you go to a website whose supposed specialty is reviews, and you see something like this. This “review” only manages to fit one of those criteria, that being the last one” that this reviewer is totally out of his mind.

A long time ago, when the second Franklin movie was being planned, our discussion took a long detour, with us arguing over the definition of the phrase “cop out”. There were numerous e-mails sent back and forth trying to determine if an idea that I came up with was something that constituted this. You can read highlights here. This argument was never really solved, but I stand here today telling you once and for all, that this “review” is the definition of “cop out”.

I can gather by the video clip shown here that the “reviewer” doesn’t like Shine On, but I was interested in hearing some actual insight into what makes it good or bad. Granted, the CD wasn’t that great (there were three songs on it that I thought were really good, but the rest was kinda mediocre), but it doesn’t deserve to have its review have nothing interesting or meaningful to say at all. I don’t know how a high-fallutin’ website like pitchforkmedia decided that that was representative of their organization, but recently, they even put up a similar video, claiming it was a JET music video. Obviously, the pretentious music-lovers have a thing against the Aussies rockers, but I really can’t figure out what it is.

The review of their first album, Get Born, gives us a little more understanding, but I use the word “little” literally. It’s presented in the form of a discussion between the band and the owner of a venue where they’re supposed to be putting on a concert. Things go wrong at the concert and the fans turn on the band. Sure there are opinions presented about the band, but I’m sure they’re all completely over-the-top exaggerations from someone who’s never seen them live or met them. I can’t imagine a band (aside from the Flaming Lips or Ozzy Osbourne) actually demanding [thirty f%$&in’ angry alligators with top hats on, Iggy Pop shooting out of that cannon, and midway through sending in the kid from the iPod commercial.] It may work as a review of the band, but as a review of the album it fails miserably.

It only mentions three songs from the CD (very briefly) and it only has two points that I gleaned from the whole thing. The first is that all their songs sound like other bands (citing AC/DC, Iggy Pop, Wallflowers, Oasis, Bon Jovi and the Rolling Stones). The second is that they have “insipid love songs that sound like wedding band covers” and “insipid lyrics, we say ‘Come On!’ and ‘Oh Yeah!’ every five seconds”. So basically the guy only knows one insulting adjective. You know, there’s a thesaurus feature in MS word, and I’d assume there’s also one on the trendy Mac you also probably use. Insipid: dull, bland, wishy-washy, characterless, colorless, trite, tame, unexciting, uninteresting, boring. Maybe none of those words sounded smart/insulting to readers enough, though I’m partial to the word “trite

Here’s the thing that the review is missing. The music is fun. It’s not meant to be high art. It’s not meant to be genre-pushing. It’s meant to be music with easy-to-learn lyrics and melodies that you can put in your car CD player, turn the volume way up on, roll down your windows and shout at the top of your lungs and have a good time. And it completely succeeds at that, something that this reviewer was competent enough to pick up on. There’s a good mix of fast and slow songs (so the whole CD doesn’t sound the same, a huge pet peeve of mine), and I like most of the slower songs. I understand that a lot of the faster songs sound similar, but they’re catchy enough that it doesn’t bother me (a problem that the second CD had), much like with critically lauded Franz Ferdinand. As far as the words go, I’m not expecting poetic lyrics, so why should I complain that they’re not there? Did people who went to see Pirates of the Caribbean complain that there wasn’t a deeper meaning in the dialogue, or that it wasn’t a British period piece about some queen from the 17th century? I would hope not. They should be expecting to have fun. That’s all I expect out of it. That’s not to say that I shouldn’t hold the band accountable for bad music, I just don’t think that criticizing lyrics for this kind of music is really the way to go. Do critics complain about the lyrics to “SHOUT” or “MONY MONY”? Some of the songs on that Fountains of Wayne CD, Welcome Interstate Managers had TERRIBLE lyrics, but critics dismissed them because of how fun the melodies were.

Now some of you who are familiar with Aaron Copland’s book, “What to Listen for in Music“, would say that I’m only listening to this album on a “sensuous”, or maybe an “expressive” level, and that to fully understand why music is good or bad, I have to be listening to it on a “sheerly musical” level as well, combining the three. Well, in response to that I would claim that there isn’t too much to it on a musical level, but my musical knowledge is limited. I’m learning to increase what I hear when I listen, but I want to understand what makes this a musically good or bad album. That’s why I went to a site where I knew I would find a harsh but intelligent criticism of the CD. But there was none of that there. Instead, all I got was a poorly-written, profanity-laced diatribe against the band for mimicking other bands. Personally, since there really isn’t any truly popular band playing right now that sounds like them, I don’t have too much of a problem with it, but I’m reviewing the review, and not the band or CD, so that doesn’t really matter.


Zero stars for the cop-out Shine On so-called review.

½
½ star for the creativity to write a review for Get Born as a dialogue. Minus four and a half for not having any substance to it at all, not talking about the songs, and basically complaining because Jet has songs that sound like bands that lots of people like.

NES Games: BigNose The Caveman


Ah yes, taking advantage of all 8 bits of excitement. You wonder how the people from “Prehistoric Park” feel about the discovery of the mini-stegosaur.

The best way to make a video game accessible to lots of people is this: make the first few levels pretty simple, and then have them get exponentially harder. Sure, you say, most video games follow this pattern. Mario, Tetris. Sonic the Hedgehog” Ducktales is pretty easy throughout, but that’s mostly because the levels are built more as challenging mazes, and you can choose the order in which you want to play them. Don’t get me started on Legacy of the Wizard… I’ve already written 2000 words about that.

I can’t think of a better example of this than the little-known game, BigNose the caveman, which came as a gold-colored cartridge. The main focus of the game was to walk from left to right on the screen and beat up dinosaurs. I really can’t remember if there was a story or not, mostly because I never got very far. I mean, the first two levels are exceptionally easy, to lure you in. They were actually pretty similar to the Mario model, with bad guys coming at you that you had to hit as you walked on the horizon line and jumped over random cliffs. That was something I always wondered about in the Mario world. How can there be so many cliffs on a piece of developed land that don’t have bridges built over them? The Princess’ father must not have been doing a good job in the public works sector. As far as BigNose, well, they barely had the technology to build a wheel, so I’m going to assume that bridges are way out of their league. ( And for all you cavemen out there, I’m not trying to insult you” the last thing I need are commercials disparaging our fine little rarely-updated enterprise)

Strangely enough, though, most of the dinosaurs BigNose encounters are pygmy dinos, with stegosauruseses and triceratopseses no bigger than the eponymous caveman himself. Sure there are giant dinos that appear at the end of major levels, as bosses, but most of them, from as far as I got, were usually seen as just two legs or something. They were way too big. Someone obviously didn’t consult the AMNH before designing this stuff.
If you think about it even more, you realize that there’s no reason for a stegosaur to attack a caveman anyway, unless he was intruding on its nest. Maybe it’s different with mini-stegosaurs though.

The simple attack was using your club to hit the bad guy, and if you picked up some stones you could use them like the fireflower power in Mario, only lamer, cause the stones don’t bounce, and if you miss, they kinda just magically fell through the ground. The hard part is getting the timing right. If you swing too soon, you miss, and too late, you’re hit by the dinosaur, which is why stones are the best option, especially since there are some dinos that need to be hit twice. Jumping over them is always an option, but you can’t jump very high, so sometimes you’ll miss. There are also potions you can buy at some stores that you can use to regain life or kill everything in the frame, making it easy to beat a boss.

Really though, the biggest challenge to this game was actually getting it to work. Maybe it was my system, or just the cheapness of the people who made the cartridge, but it never worked right. I had to do the blowing on the game, then blowing in the Nintendo thing that every kid my age was quite accomplished at. You’d think we’d all be harmonica players. At some point, even that began to not work, and the game would only work if I used the game genie as a buffer.

The music was actually really catchy, even though I can’t remember any of it now.

Overall, the first few levels are moderately enjoyable. The next few are too frustrating. And there’s no continue or save option, so once you lose, you start all over again. I’d say the same thing about Mario, except there’s plenty of opportunity for extra lives and level-skipping in that game. That, and you had some sort of goal to achieve in Mario. If you really want to play a game about cavemen, I’d settle for a Turbo Graphx-16, or an emulator for its games, and Bonk’s Adventure.

*½

One and a half stars for making me feel like I was good at video games, and then tearing that dream away from me. Relatively good music, but a premise that was pretty much just a terrible rip-off of Bonk’s Adventure.

The Concept of Speed Stacks


I can’t wait ’til ESPN starts covering this when they’re up against the Final Four.

Now I’ve seen everything. In this day and age, it’s hard to find a hobby that doesn’t have a world championship. There’s world championship yo-yo, rubix cube, truck pulling, beatboxing, air guitar, and even bartending. I wouldn’t even bet against entering a golden age of world t-shirt-wearing competitions after this guy made it totally famous. So was I surprised a few weeks ago when I saw the above clip of the little girl breaking the world-cup-stacking record? A little bit. Only that there was such a thing as cup-stacking to begin with. I do however think it’s hi-larious how serious the comments that go along with it, from the cup-stacking peanut gallery, are.

As surprised as I was that there was such a thing as world cup-stacking competitions, I was completely baffled today when I passed by what I assume was Nickelodeon, and caught the last fifteen seconds of a commercial for SPEED STACKS!, the fast-paced game of placing cups into pyramids and then collapsing them!!! Excitement for the whole family!!

Now if all of you cup-stacking enthusiasts are reading this, I’m not trying to disparage your hobby of choice; after all, I spent a good five hours of my life writing a review of a show about a Dinosaur Island Wildlife Preserve. Here’s my complaint… how is anyone supposed to take this seriously? First the company makes the cups bright neon colors, then they make a commercial only slightly less outrageous than the old “Crossfire” ad. I can’t say that I haven’t seen lamer products being sold on Nick though; after all, they were the sole reason why shoes with lights in the heels were so popular….. and there’s also Gak.

But do adults do this cup-stacking thing? Because it really seems like everywhere I’ve seen it, it’s entirely for kids, which doesn’t bode well for thoughts of taking it seriously whatsoever…. well that and the fact that they’re spending their hours putting cups in a pyramid and collapsing them to beat the clock.

The kit you can buy online comes with everything you could need: cups, a mat with just the right grip, a how-to DVD, and a mesh carrying case for whenever you want to lug your neon cups around town and show them off. Again, are we in 1991?

I do have to say this though: in an age where hyperkinetic video games and cartoons give children the need to have instant gratification and hyperactive behavior, does cup stacking “stack up” against the alternatives? Maybe if they spelled it “Speed Stax” with an X. I really don’t know why they didn’t, with a commercial as crazy as that one.

**

The concept of Speed Stacks gets a generous two stars for doing its part to bring kids into the “exciting” world of cup stacking, and for taking a risk at banking on a trend that really has yet to gain any sort of steam. Minus three stars for the lame neon colors; the fact that cup stacking probably gets really boring after you realize you’re just doing the same thing over and over again, and that you’re not good at it; and for the fact that something advertized as being extreme isn’t spelled with an “X” when it obviously should be.

The Concept of Eleni’s Oscar Cookies


You can’t even tell which direction Cookie Forest Whittaker is looking in, but man is he still compelling as a pastry.

A few weeks ago, I happened upon this article on EW, briefly discussing the merits of cookies designed with illustrations of the best actor and best actress nominees for this year’s Academy Awards. I found it a little peculiar, but didn’t really think too much about it, until the next day when I walked past the cupcake and cookies store on the main floor of the building I work at. In the window I happened to see the images of the actors, and remembered seeing them on the EW website. I went in to check out the cookies (they’ve done the same sugar screening thing on the top of the cupcake icing too, which i think is creepier), and found that you could buy them in a sixteen pack box set for a mere 56 dollars. For those of you who aren’t hip to the mathematics, that’s 3.50 a cookie. You can check out images of the packs here
Now I don’t know about you all, but unless it’s giant, or some combination of lobster, truffles, filet mignon, and gold, i’m not paying $3.50 for a single cookie. Especially one that’s about the same size and type as the Girlscout shortbread cookies (“trefoils” for those of you pagans out there). But then again, I’ve never eaten cookies that taste like Will Smith.

I get that there are people out there who make a lot more money than I do (especially in NYC), and can afford to purchase extravagant items like this for their Oscar party. I would even argue collectibility, except for the fact that the cookies would totally deteriorate in a not-so-long amount of time. Here’s what I don’t get: At what point does somebody have so much money that his/her sense of worth gets skewed so that they don’t have an issue with buying 16 small cookies for 56 dollars? What makes this whole thing all the more preposterous is that on the Saturday before the awards, they were being sold at half price. Of course, the people there were talking up the “You can buy both sets” deal, but that just goes to show how much the price was jacked up to begin with. And are people really THAT into the Academy Awards? Do people have parties for a five-hour-long, and not particularly entertaining show that lasts until 1 in the a.m? On a Sunday? Is there some prestige earned by purchasing these cookies for your elaborate party? Maybe, but I think that if you went and bought some cheap but vastly more delicious cookies and gift wrapped them yourself, that you’d probably have more. “Ah”, you say. “But they wouldn’t have Peter O’Toole’s mouthwatering face on them”. And to this I say, “I think I’ve just proven my point”.

*

I’ll give them one star for the work that went into creating images of people to put on their cookies, and the fact that anything cookie-related can’t be all bad. Hey, if they were free, I’d totally eat them. But they wouldn’t last long… especially 56 dollars worth of time. That and I don’t find it particularly appetizing to eat a cookie with Helen Mirren on it. Now if they were Razzie awards cookies, filled with raspberry jam…. that might be different.

The Concept of Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time


Now if we could only get them to make a “Cinderfella III”. Too bad Ed Wynn isn’t alive anymore…. “Now don’t let’s be silly!”

It would probably be very easy for me to sit here and complain about all the cheaply made direct-to-video sequels Disney has put out over the last 13 years. So I think I will…. at least for just a little bit longer. Did the world really need a sequel to “Atlantis” or “Brother Bear” Is it really possible to make a sequel to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” After “Bambi II”, “Lady and the Tramp II”, and “The Fox and the Hound 2” are there any Disney classics that are going to be deemed untouchable? Maybe “Snow White” and “Pinocchio”, but who knows, since this year we’re going to be “treated” to both “Cinderella III” and “Peter Pan III”, which has an hi-lariously (mostly) fake cast list on Wikipedia…. godspeed Hax0rs. The one thing that we can be sure we’ll never see though is “Song of the South II: Racist Boogaloo“.

But getting to the matter at hand, “Cinderella III” specifically. First off, who knew that there was a “Cinderella II”? Apparently, “Cinderella II” didn’t even have a full story, instead giving three vignettes about life in the castle… which teach valuable life lessons, like

“Cinderella is put in charge of the palace banquets and parties, but realizes she doesn’t agree with the way it’s used to being run. With the help of other characters, Cinderella convinces everyone in the palace that everyone in the kingdom, including the peasants, should be allowed to participate in the next royal banquet.”

or

One of Cinderella mouse friends, Jaq, thinks he’s too small to help Cinderella in the palace like he did in the first movie. The Fairy Godmother shows up to help him out, and turns him into a human so he can help out like everyone else. However, he soon learns to be happy with who he really is.”

I guess the money is the answer as supposedly, the video cost only five million dollars and earned 120 million in DVD sales. Kids… they’ll watch anything.

With “Cinderella II” being such a hit, it’s an obvious choice to continue the story where they left off, if by left off, you mean left off after the original, completely ignoring the existence of the sequel. Basically the story is that Cinderella’s stepsister and stepmother find a magic wand that belongs to the Fairy Godmother… heartache, and mild humor possibly ensue. Time gets reversed, people turn into stone, or frogs, or have their memories erased, and Doc and Marty have to stop Old Biff from giving Young Biff the almanac, all because the magic wand doesn’t need a security code or training to operate it. In fact, I’d venture to say that this “Fairy Godmother” is just some random nutjob who found this wand and took it upon herself to grant wishes to unsuspecting minors. I wonder if all this time-shifting stuff would confuse a kid who has seen both other movies. Heck, if the Children’s Theatre workshop said that the Classic Sesame Street DVDs might not be suitable for kids because of the disconnect between characters from the 70’s and now, I would think that messing with “Cinderella”‘s whole space-time continuum would mess with kids’ heads. But the most insane thing about the DVD… a music video featuring a song sung by the Cheerleader from “Heroes”. I guess somebody else is getting on the “acting starlett jumping into music” bandwagon, like Hilary Duff and her mortal enemy Lindsay Lohan.

Supposedly, Walt Disney made it public that he didn’t want sequels of his movies made, other than “Fantasia“. But why, then is there a need to create these sequels, possibly tarnishing the memories of the classics? It would be one thing if they were given the time and budget to at least make them look good, but quick, cheap, and foreign-made don’t seem like the best way to honor the past. Why couldn’t the Disney company create direct-to-video cartoons that have an entirely new set of characters, with an original story? It’s all in the branding and marketability. The characters are so well-known, and so well-tied to the company, that now, most ties to the original stories they’re based on are forgotten. That, and the fact that anything with princesses will appeal to little girls and the parents of little girls. It’s the easiest way to tap into a market with a built-in fanbase. I can’t blame them for being smart businessmen, but I guess I can blame them for devaluing the past. I bet you never thought you’d hear someone compare Cinderella to Pro Wrestling, but you’re about to.

What do you think Victor Hugo would say if thirty years after he wrote “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” someone else came along and wrote a sequel? I would venture to guess that the original artists and writers of these theatrical movies would feel the same way about how the direct-to-video business devalues their work. I don’t want to sound like an old man about this, but when I was their age there were at MOST, four cartoon movies that came out in the theatre each year and were heavily promoted. Look at this list. Now, take out all the cartoons with red links, the ones that were released in foreign countries, and the ones that were direct-to-video. In 1989, three; 1990, three; in 1991, it got upped to a generous five (I’m counting ‘Rover Dangerfield’ even though it tanked). Heck, other than “Nightmare Before Christmas”, Disney didn’t even release an animated film in 1993… I would guess because they were spending all of their feature film energy on “The Lion King”. 2006 saw the release of 14 major cartoon movies. FOURTEEN! (And all of them were CGI, but that’s a topic for a review that I probably will never do, ’cause standing on that soapbox is even nerdier than this one.) That’s more than one per month. No wonder kids need everything immediately. I think that’s part of my biggest complaint about Cinderella III, and the others is that they’re not major events. Without any sort of waiting, or time without a child-aimed movie, how can one of these movies be more than mediocre, run-of-the-mill entertainment. Not that the ones in the 80s weren’t, because “All Dogs Go to Heaven” was far from a great movie. But because there were only three cartoons that came out that year, it was an actual “event” for kids, which is more than I can say for “Doogal“, “Arthur and the Invisibles” and “Everyone’s Hero“, and especially “The Ant Bully” and “Flushed Away“, the movie that made Dreamworks end its partnership with Aardman animation, even after the “Wallace and Gromit” movie did so well and won the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Even if “All Dogs…” didn’t turn a huge profit, it was a fairly large pop-culture phenomenon for a month or so, which is way more than I can say about “Everyone’s Hero”. I think that the studios are going to have to realize sooner or later that this oversaturation is hurting the business in the long run, and someone needs to back off for a bit.

Time for the wrestling analogy. WWE used to run one pay-per view per month, before that it was less, obviously. But in the past few years, they’ve uped it to about 17 or 18, meaning there could be a point where there were two pay events in two weeks. Of course, because of the large amount of programming (in addition to the ppv’s, the core audience that buys them is expected to keep up with five hours of other programming per week) audiences are asked to consume, and the lack of quality content, the general viewership has decreased. The animation industry is, I believe, on that threshold. . There’s going to be a point where kids aren’t interested anymore, and that trend seems to have started this year, with the various high-profile animated films just doing disastrous numbers, and I think that the home-video market is watering it down further.

Yet I digress. The review is on the concept of the movie itself, and not of the entire industry, I know. But I think that Cinderella III is representative of the trends that animation in general is moving towards and it would surprise me if the movie was watchable at all, just as it would surprise me if the feature-film animation industry as a whole got back to the art and storytelling levels that it once was at. Call me lame, but I’m still hoping that it will.

*½
The Concept of Cinderella III gets one and a half stars, for at least being somewhat original with the story idea, but generally just adding to the idea that these direct-to-video sequels are worthwhile ventures, when in reality they water down the market for future 2-D animation, and devalue the ground-breaking work done on the theatrical originals that they milk for all they’re worth.

2006-07 Academy Awards Nominations


This year, the movie that I chose to not see, but still complain about is “Dreamgirls”, a movie that wasn’t even nominated for best picture… and I’m not really even complaining about it… which makes me feel real strange.

The academy awards nominations came out this morning. And for some reason I decided that I don’t really care this year. It’s weird because I don’t know why. In fact, I wrote most of this review on Sunday, before they were even announced. I’ve become jaded to the whole celebrity scene this year, and I’ve stopped seeing this show as an affirmation that the movies that I enjoyed over the past year are good, and more as a means of keeping up the guise of celebrity importance. (review of the near future: celebrity feuds)

Maybe it was seeing people argue about which movies deserved which awards the way I used to, and thinking, “Wow, do these guys see how completely stupid they look, rooting for something that they think they have partial ownership in, just because they kinda liked it? Did I look that stupid, phony, and in over my head when I was complaining about how undervalued “The Man who Wasn’t There” was, or how that ridiculous “THEY MAKE THE RAIN AND SAY IT’S RAINING!!!” rant from Cold Mountain won good ole squinty-eyed Renee Zellweger her academy award? Well, chances are I did for the last one, because I totally used to do an impression of that was intentionally unintentionally hi-larious, and which has since failed the test of time, seeing as how nobody even remembers the movie a mere two years later. This also goes to show the unimportance of these awards, because I highly doubt that all the people that argue about these sort of things could even tell me without looking it up, who hosted the 2001 awards (held in 2002), let alone who won best actor and actress. Whoopi Goldberg hosted by the by, and I don’t even think I could tell you what movie won best picture ( Chicago maybe?) let alone the acting awards. The only reason I remember Whoopi is because my friends and I were watching in a TV lounge filled with people who actually thought she was funny. We couldn’t take it and ended up leaving in a huff. That’s beside the point.

All this is not to say that I’m not going to look and see who’s nominated or who wins. I’ll probably even watch the show. But at this moment, writing this review, do I think it’s worth having an Oscar “party” or doing an awards pool (in which I have participated numerous times)? Not really. Do I find that a little disheartening? Of course I do. Three years ago at this time, I was in the center of celebrity culture. I was in the bleachers for the Screen Actor’s Guild red carpet. I stood by the limo security checkpoint at the Golden Globes to get a glimpse of anybody relatively famous. I can’t say for sure if I would do it again. Maybe just to say I did it. Then again, I never really got “star-struck” to begin with. Most of the pictures I took of people were either for bragging rights, or because I knew friends might want them. But still, even the following year I went in on an Oscar pool.

What’s my point in all this? I’m not quite sure. All I know is that at this specific minute of this specific day, I’m thinking to myself “Don’t we have enough other things to be interested in or worry about than awards for millionaires (I know that the tech award winners are mostly non-millionaires, and the people who make the shorts and documentaries are probably even less well-off) we’ve never met and mostly think they’re better than us anyway?” I suppose you could argue the same of sports, but to me the difference is that football and baseball are designed to be competitions, and film isn’t, or at least shouldn’t. Why should it matter to us if a movie we like wins an award? Shouldn’t liking it be enough? Maybe it’s the validation that comes with being behind something that is regarded by professionals to be the best. Maybe it’s the ability to say to our friends “I totally knew Marcia Gay Harden was gonna win for Pollack, even though I’ve never even heard of the movie because it sounds boring and was only playing in 8 cities”, thereby coming off as knowledgeable, even though you just got lucky or read a newspaper article. Maybe it’s just that feeling that you know a lot about a subject, even if you really don’t, but just know a little bit more than your friends. Besides, ten years from now, “Saving Private Ryan” will be remembered even though it lost to the completely forgettable “Shakespeare in Love”, which was lauded by the pretentious set.

This pretentiousness is something that the Oscars and other awards do spur on, and I guess this is where my whole complaint starts. Soon enough, the debates will rage over which arthouse movie that nobody was able to see was more overrated, which one deserves more attention etc. And all these people will be arguing over the fact that we love a movie that we haven’t even seen, just because of the talent attached to it. And that “you’re” (the royal “you”) stupid and less important because you’ve never even heard of it. And that’s just wrong. I really don’t want to do that again. (Update: I was flipping through the morning shows today to see if anyone was talking about the noms, just to prove my case, and the new FOX morning show had on their two Oscar Experts… two women who looked to be a mere few years older than I am. Of course there were raving about how great Helen Mirren was in “The Queen”… and to make matters worse, the audience erupted in applause. Now, you have to be sure that in this situation, maybe 25 percent of the audience at most has seen this movie, and the rest are either being egged on by the stage manager/audience warm-up guy, or just don’t want to seem like they don’t know anything about anything. Strangely enough, I’m looking at the box-office tallies for this weekend, and “The Queen” is actually playing in more theaters than “Children of Men”, “Alpha Dog”, and “The Good Shepherd”.)

And maybe I’m upset that somehow I’ve grown to see something that I used to see as the Holy Grail of Film-making achievement now as a way to sell movies that otherwise wouldn’t have an audience. I mean, would anyone have gone to see “The Last King of Scotland” otherwise? It’s all part of the self-promoting hype machine, and I don’t know if I’m still down with that. Maybe in a case like this, yes, but that silly red carpet image stuff always seems to undermine the gravitas of the “talent-based” awards.

As for the specific nominations themselves, they seem generally fine across the board, as far as the movies that I’ve gone to see, and those are really all that I can discuss.

**

The 2006-07 Academy Awards Nominations get two stars for being a way to generally promote smaller, higher-quality movies. As far as awards competition goes, I’m not really a fan of how devisive it makes people, including myself, about movies we like, versus ones we aren’t planning on seeing, but dislike just for the sake of it . As far as this year’s specific award nominees go, I’ve got no major complaints, other than the lack of “Children of Men”, but I can live without it, knowing how the voting process, and awards campaigning go. Oh… and the fact that THREE freakin songs from Dreamgirls are nominated…. now that’s something genuine to dislike… but still, does it really matter?